John Fallon was Spurs’ Republic of Ireland scout from 1984 to 2015 (for a relatively short time during that period John joined Roy Keane at Sunderland when he was the manager there), and during that time the Dubliner who was also a kit man for the Republic of Ireland Senior Team during the 2000s (for 12 years), would recommend many a player to Spurs. Fallon recommended the likes of Stephen Carr, Stephen Kelly, David McDonald and Mark Yeates to Spurs, as well as many, many more players, and recently I had the great pleasure and privilege of talking to John about his long association with the club as their Republic of Ireland scout.
What is your earliest footballing memory?
John: My earliest one would have been the Spurs double team and you tended here in Ireland to the follow the teams that were successful. But when I grew up in Dublin it was very similar to Gerry McKee, so it was Man United, Liverpool and Celtic fans, but there were a few people my age as well as their children who supported Spurs, but in the last few years I’ve noticed quite a lot of Spurs supporters around. I was from a place in Dublin called Cabra and it was a great footballing place and loads of footballers came from around there such as Liam Whelan who was from only down the road and also Jimmy Conway and lots of other players. We used to call it the home of football.
Did you play the game at any level?
John: I did and I played during my schoolboy years with a club called Stella Maris which was Johnny Giles’s old club, and we had a really good side. I went away to Blackburn on trial when I was 15 and then I came back and I played with Shelbourne and then I went to Athlone Town, and I also played for Shamrock Rovers for a season but only in the reserves. I then dropped out of football because of some personal troubles and I managed schoolboy teams when I was about 20/21 but then I got lost a bit and then after that I asked if I could have the Spurs job (Republic of Ireland scout) out of the blue. So I just picked up the phone one day and rang Tottenham and said are you looking for a scout? And they said I don’t know and you’ll have speak to John Moncur, and this was on a Wednesday and it was hard to get a job because it was a random person ringing you up, and you know what I mean it could be anyone. So I rang back the next day and he (John Moncur) said that yeah and that he’d be interested, and so at some point when you’re over we’ll have a chat. I turned up on the Saturday for a game which was two days later, and I think we were playing Nottingham Forest. I knocked on the front door and said can I see John Moncur and John gave me the job and we went on from there. Tommy Fitzgerald might have been the first player that we signed and it just went on from that and it was just a dream come true, and I couldn’t describe what that done for my life going to watch eight or ten matches a week, and we signed quite a few lads during that time. I think I had four/five players who played for the Spurs first team, and they were Mark Yeates, Stephen Kelly, Stephen Carr. And then in the early days when Terry Venables was there (Spurs paid money for him) we signed David McDonald, and I think that he only played two or three games but then he ended up playing about 400 for Barnet.
Did you have any footballing heroes or inspirations and if so, who were they?
John: Jimmy Greaves. I loved Jimmy Greaves and also Bill Nicholson, and then in relation to Ireland Johnny Giles, but Jimmy Greaves was the biggest attraction to me. But I also loved Dave Mackay for what he was and for what he stood for in the club, and then I think the next big one that I remember was Spurs winning the FA Cup final in about 1962. Then in the 1967 FA Cup final I remember being so nervous about the result and worrying whether they’d win it, and then little did I know I’d actually be on one of the buses for one of the cup finals with some of the staff going to Wembley in the match against Nottingham Forest, and the club treated us brilliantly that day, and it was just unbelievable. John Moncur was the biggest connection and he was brilliant, and I can’t talk highly enough of John and we’re still friends now and I hope that we always will be. I used to go over to Spurs regularly because I loved the atmosphere of the place, and I used to get over maybe six to eight times a year. At that time a lot of the offices were based in White Hart Lane and I’ll never forget this day when I went to go into John Moncur’s office, and I opened the door and the door kind of banged against a chair, and there was Bill Nicholson in the office working away. Talk about starstruck I nearly cried and I couldn’t believe it, he was such a nice man and every time that I used to go over he would say how’s John and how’s things in Dublin. And what a gentleman and what a lovely, lovely man, and for what he was and what he achieved. So many things that were beyond belief happened to me working for Spurs that it was just unbelievable, and meeting these people day in day out. Such as working with Terry Venables and having tea with Ossie Ardiles and Chris Hughton, and meeting Glenn Hoddle was just unbelievable.
What is your earliest memory of being Spurs’ Republic of Ireland scout?
John: The first one was travelling over with Tommy Fitzgerald for the trial and then also Curtis Fleming who played for Middlesbrough and Crystal Palace. I think that Curtis was the first player that I actually sent over but they didn’t sign him and he was a brilliant lad, then when they signed Tommy who was the first player that you’d sent to the club that was great. I think at one time that in one of the teams at Spurs we actually had nine Irish lads, and I think that four of them were UK born like Peter Gain and Kevin Maher, but I think that there was Alan Mannix, Ross Darcy and Simon Webb, and so you were looking at half the team that were Irish and so that was brilliant, but there were just so many highlights. Terry Venables was a football genius as John Moncur said but what a man he is, and the first time that I met him we shook hands and he said how’s it going, and are they looking after you and are you getting your expenses, and small little things like that which are huge for somebody who was doing the job that I was doing. It broke my heart when Terry left Spurs.
Having told me some of your early memories of being a Spurs scout could you talk me through the rest of your career as a scout for the club?
John: It was all Spurs related at that stage and I remember Spurs paid a fee for David McDonald from the League of Ireland even though he was only 16, early on. Then Bobby Arber got involved and he had a great eye for players, and he really spotted Mark Yeates and Stephen Kelly, and we were there together scouting and he liked the both of them and so both of them signed and got into the first team. Things changed over the years and it depended a lot on the manager, so Terry Venables wanted to be really involved and also Ossie Ardiles and Steve Perryman, and actually Steve Perryman was another idol of mine. I remember when Stephen Carr signed for us and six months later he made his debut and he (Steve Perryman) said that if you have a house then bet it on Stephen Carr playing international and Premiership football. I think at the time that Stephen Carr was one of the youngest ever players for Spurs, and Stephen missed out on that record by eight days, and Steve Perryman said that it would have been great if he had broken that record. I think that Stephen made his debut at like 16 and eight months, but that’s been passed now and some of the lads like Dane Scarlett have broken it. But look you would have had to have woken me up and said that you work for Tottenham as I just couldn’t believe it. The prestige that it gave you and the confidence that it gave you was great and I don’t mind saying that. I used to go to say 50 internationals a year and I don’t think that for four or five years I missed any age group matches of internationals that were played in Ireland, Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England, that involved Ireland.
Terry Venables used to always tell me to make sure that we know about players otherwise we can’t sign them, but probably my biggest miss was Roy Keane even though we knew about him and he was due to go to Tottenham the week after, but Nottingham Forest offered his club £15,000 and we hadn’t seen them. In them days you wouldn’t sign somebody if they had come to the club and had a trial as such and that was one of my biggest regrets, but you can’t sign them all either. There were loads of lads that we missed out on and I seen that John Moncur mentioned Ole Gunnar Solskjær in your interview, well I remember watching Norway playing Northern Ireland in Belfast and Ole played centre-forward, and I sent in a report and I know that John got it but I don’t know what happened to it after that, but there was also another player who was a left-back called Bjørn Tore Kvarm. Going on I got the job working with the Republic of Ireland international side because I’m involved in the sports business, and going to the World Cup with Ireland was a dream come true and I had twelve great years. Then Chris Hughton came in as assistant manager and that was great and then also Stephen Carr was there, but I was good friends with the vast majority of that squad like Gary Breen and Kevin Kilbane, and the whole thing was just great.
Would you be able to tell me some interesting players who would go on to make it in the game that you recommended to Spurs?
John: I didn’t recommend this player but we went to see a League of Ireland selection play Man City and James McClean played at the time and I think that we should have signed him. We had a chief-scout at the time and they were thinking about it but then he signed for Sunderland two days later for £300,000, and James has had a great career in the game. Damien Duff was tied down to his club and John O’Shea had agreed a deal to go to Celtic and I did ask if he would like to go to Spurs but he didn’t really, and I think that Alex Ferguson maybe flew over to John’s home. But it was players like that who you would maybe be kicking yourself that you didn’t get them to Tottenham, but there was very few players that we wouldn’t have known about even if we didn’t sign them. But probably Roy Keane is my biggest regret if I’m being honest and I probably should have pushed it a lot harder but I don’t think that anybody knew how good Roy was going to be, nobody! Robbie Keane was another one and he went to Wolves and a friend of mine had been scouting him and that deal was done from pretty early on. Another player was Ryan Manning who was a player who I recommended to Tottenham, but they didn’t think that he was quite good enough. Richard Dunne was another one but he was away with Everton early, but once I had reported the players to Terry Venables and he knew about the players, then it was in my hands to try and get them over. But it was up to the club then as I didn’t have the say in who signs and who doesn’t, and John Moncur would always back you to the hilt but you didn’t always get it right, no more than anybody. Going off topic probably the greatest schoolboy player that I ever sent over to Spurs who signed for them was a lad called Darren Grogan and he had a bad ankle, but he was the best schoolboy player that I ever seen, and still is. He was only 15 when we signed him and he came home and he played against the Dublin Schoolboys against Manchester United and I was one of the sponsors so I was there.
Alex Ferguson was jumping up and down wanting to know how they didn’t sign him, and so he was one player who we signed but didn’t come through, and there are plenty of lads that you thought were really good players but one thing or another meant that they didn’t make it, even though they might have made a living out of the game.
What was your time at the Lilywhites like on the whole?
John: I loved every second and it’s not that you took it for granted but I just loved it, and going over to the club and just being recognised when you were there by Gerry at the gate and saying how are you doing and how’s it going and then getting you a cup of tea, that was just great. As was knowing all of the lads in the cloakroom on match day and also Terry Venables and John Moncur treating you as an equal and not talking down to you but listening to you, and you’ve got to earn that respect. When I first started at Spurs I was young and only just in my thirties and I was winging it a bit as it’s something that you learn through watching players, and unless it’s Pelé or Maradona you need to watch it and back your judgement, and that comes out of experience and it doesn’t just come to you, if you know what I mean. It’s different now with all of the analysts as they can put out anything they like but there’s nothing like actually seeing a player. When I went to work for Roy Keane at Sunderland I got a lad called David Meyler who wasn’t even training with Cork’s first team, and if not for his injuries I think that he would have been a top, top player, and I wasn’t working at Tottenham at the time. But I loved every minute of working for Tottenham and I loved the club and still do now, and it still breaks my heart every week or every month when we lose a match. So I just loved every part of it and I loved people saying that I worked for Tottenham, and it’s just so hard to explain. It’s a bit like when I was working for Ireland and it was just for me the pinnacle to be working for your country, but Spurs the club that you love and still do are up there with that. You forget how managers that you worked for, and stuff like having tea with Steve Perryman and Ossie Ardiles, and Ossie telling you about the World Cup and Daniel Passarella as if he knew me all his life.
I remember when Spurs played Shamrock Rovers in Dublin when I was still working for the club, and I went out to drop a friend of mine off to meet Harry Redknapp who knew him better than me, and he (Harry Redknapp) said how are you John and we’re going into town and would you like to come with us? And he was asking me what I thought of this and that, and so that was just brilliant. There’s probably not enough words to describe the way it was with Spurs
Who were your greatest influences at Spurs?
John: John Moncur and Terry Venables, without a doubt. David Pleat was great I have to say and his football knowledge was frightening, also Steve Perryman and Chris Hughton were brilliant at the time but John Moncur was just brilliant. I probably wouldn’t have lasted as long without John, mainly because he was honest, backed you to the hilt and trusted your judgment. But at the end of the day John made the decision and you respected it because you kind of knew that he had the knowledge even if it was a super player that might be better than what he had, then John would make that decision, and they weren’t easy decisions to make as they are anything but simple decisions to make. John was a great man for negotiations and a great man for signing players, and he just knew what to say as he knew what was what.
What do you feel was your greatest contribution to Spurs as a scout?
John: The fact that I’m able to sit down and know that four players that I sent away to Spurs were signed by them and played in their first team, and I have to tell myself that. Stephen Carr was sold for two and a half million or whatever and Stephen Kelly for a million, and the moneys not important but it was more the fact that they actually played for the club that you supported and that you actually had a big hand in that, and they are probably the proudest things ever. Especially watching Stephen Carr make his debut and watching him progress and become maybe the best right-back in Europe at one stage before his injury. Plus I liked the friendship with the lads that you sent away to Spurs and the fact that you might still be in contact with them, even though they might not be superstars they’re great lads and they’ve still made a living out of the game, and when you still meet them now they still have a bit of respect for you. There was no downside to working at Tottenham, none whatsoever and you’d wake up every morning and count your blessings.
Are there any memories from your time as Spurs’ Republic of Ireland scout which stand out to you?
John: I think the main memories is when the lads made their debut, such as when I realised that Stephen Kelly, Stephen Carr and Mark Yeates were going to start. Not being selfish also the fact that you knew so many people at the club and they knew you was nice. I remember travelling up to the FA Cup final in 1991 and the party afterwards was brilliant and that always sticks in my head as well as the way that you were treated by people. I mean Bill Nicholson asking me how’s things in Dublin and asking me if I wanted a cup of tea, that is about as unimaginable as anything. You can have all the money in the world but you just can’t buy them memories.
What would your advice be to the young Spurs players of today as they look to make it in the game?
John: I know it’s a cliché but never give up and if it’s not Spurs always think it will be somebody else. You get a manager who really likes you and he works with you for a year but then he leaves and the other manager comes in and he doesn’t fancy you, so there’s so much luck involved in it but never give up. You’ve got to be a bit obsessive and singleminded that this is what I want, and I did about 160 full internationals when I was away on international duty and about 100 youth internationals as a kit man. You’d be away at times from your family and someone might have died, there might be a wedding or a birthday and you’re not there for it, so that’s what goes with the territory but surround yourself with good people. Surround yourself with winners is an old saying and listen to the ones that matter, but never ever lose your focus, not in an arrogant way but in a humble way, and always believe in yourself.
After all these years how do you look back on your time with the Lilywhites and is Spurs a club who still hold close to your heart?
John: I cherish every memory and it was just so simple that at the time I just couldn’t believe it that I got the job in the first place. I just wanted to hold onto it and I just loved every minute, and there was no downside to being at Tottenham as it was all a plus and I just loved it. Just the whole club, the place, the feel around it and the people was just great, so the people who were not involved in the football club like the secretaries and Gerry the security guard on the gate and just being greeted by him was great, and also people knowing you. I can remember going to Man City and they forgot to leave a ticket out for me and I was just standing there and then Vinny Samways came over to me to see if I was ok, and then he came back from inside with a ticket for me. Being at Spurs was like being part of a family that you loved, and I just loved every part of it.